Belchertown’s Evan Fournier found his place on a UMass men’s soccer team full of opportunity

  • Belchertown's Evan Fournier, right, is entering his senior season with the UMass men's soccer team. After struggling with injuries earlier in his career, he's settling into a role on the team after a great spring. The Minutemen open the season against Northeastern at 1 p.m. Thursday in Boston. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • UMass men’s soccer coach Fran O’Leary and the Minutemen open the season against Northeastern at 1 p.m. Thursday in Boston. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Belchertown's Evan Fournier is entering his senior season with the UMass men's soccer team. After struggling with injuries earlier in his career, he's settling into a role on the team after a great spring. The Minutemen open the season against Northeastern at 1 p.m. Thursday in Boston. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 8/24/2022 3:26:28 PM
Modified: 8/24/2022 3:22:52 PM

AMHERST – The UMass shirt finally fits right on Belchertown graduate Evan Fournier.

After a career populated with injuries and interruptions, the senior found his place in the Minutemen’s men’s soccer midfield.

“It's a weird feeling, actually. It's sort of the same thing in high school. When you were a freshman, senior year seems so far away,” Fournier said. “And now I'm a senior. So it's sort of the same feeling, but I feel more mature. I feel like I'm a leader on the team now.”

Fournier and the Minutemen open the season at 1 p.m. Thursday against Northeastern. He’ll man the middle of the pitch with junior captain Ryan Leary, connecting UMass’ back line and its forwards, and facilitating play.

“Our goal is to set the example for the team and set the tempo. We do our best to hold high standards for each other and get the best team performance,” Fournier said. “I do see myself as sort of lead by example player.”

Before he could ask that of others, Fournier had to find it in himself. His sophomore season was cut short by injury, and he played in 13 of 17 games (one start) as a junior last fall. But Fournier came into form in the spring, rediscovering the player he is. UMass coach Fran O’Leary and his teammates reassured him of his quality and bolstered his confidence.

“I think I played the best I’ve played in a UMass shirt. I got my confidence back,” Fournier said. “Last fall was a little bit shaky because I had surgery on my knee. So it was it was nice to get out there, feel fully healthy and just feel like I can just focus on playing.”

Fournier is one of 14 returners from last year’s squad that went 8-4-5 and missed the Atlantic 10 tournament via a tiebreaker. The Minutemen drew four conference games and went to overtime seven times throughout the season. Only three games (two losses) were decided by more than a goal.

“Last year we were just so close to everything, so close to making the tournament. But all of that was in our control,” Fournier said. “We could have won more games, we could have conceded less goals, scored more goals. So I think this year, we really need to try to put together all the pieces of the puzzle.”

It’s different pieces and a different puzzle. Seven starters moved on from UMass. Three players signed professional deals: keeper Marvyn Dorchin (FK Mjølner in Norway), Yosuke Hanya (Colorado Rapids 2) and leading scorer Begliardi Ghidi (IFK Luleå in Sweden). That number includes four of UMass’ top five scorers and its top goalkeeper. Positions and roles are there for the taking.

“Hunger is an important thing in sports, hunger to compete and hunger to prove yourself and I think our squad will definitely do that,” O’Leary said.

UMass’ schedule will allow the Minutemen to prove themselves against some of the best teams in both the Northeast and the country. It includes three NCAA Tournament teams: Vermont, Elite 8 squad and defending A-10 champion Saint Louis, and the defending national champions Clemson (Oct. 24).

UMass will visit the Tigers as part of a late conference road trip to Davidson. O’Leary knows Clemson head coach Mike Noonan from their shared time in New England. Noonan previously coached at Brown, New Hampshire and Wheaton.

“You don’t always get the chance to play the defending national champs,” UMass grad student Nathaniel Cardoza said.

The Minutemen will also tangle with regional rivals Sacred Heart (Aug. 29) Boston College (Sept. 3), Central Connecticut State (Sept. 7), Boston University (Sept. 10), Dartmouth (Sept. 13) and UMass Lowell (Sept. 20).

“Our goal is to make the A-10 playoffs,” O’Leary said. “These games, they help best prepare us for the conference.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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